An Evening at La Cage
For those of you who don’t know, "An Evening At La Cage" was THE Vegas drag show at the Riviera for a thousand years (okay, maybe it just felt that way as it had such a long run).
So a few years ago when it closed and its star, Frank Marino opened his own show down the Strip, it seemed as though "La Cage" would be no more here in Vegas. See my review of Frank Marino’s "Divas Las Vegas" here.
About a year ago, enter longtime "La Cage" performer Jimmy Emerson, who previously filled the "big boned gal" comedic spots. He stepped into hostess duties in a revamped version of "Evening At La Cage" now simply called, "Norbert Aleman’s La Cage starring Jimmy Emerson," back at its original home at the Riviera.
The showroom at the Riviera is an intimate vision in red velvet from a by-gone era (that was unfortunately only about a third filled on the recent Saturday night when I attended the show). Upon entering the showroom, you’re treated to pre-show music like Sister Sledge’s "We Are Family." So between the vintage look of the showroom, the music, and a video montage showing every celebrity who has appeared on film or television in drag, it made me think we were in for a good, old-fashioned drag show.
Well, it was old and it was a drag show. It’s the difference between a car that’s just old and one that has been restored and earns the title of "vintage." Unfortunately for everyone, this "La Cage" is just an old car.
The opening number wins the award for the worst and dullest opening number ever seen on any stage. Four female showgirls (who as much as they try, add nothing to the show other than human scenery) do their best in tuxes and oversized top hats, while the tallest and most manly of the drag performers -- also in a tux and top hat -- lip syncs to Lauren Bacall’s "One Of The Boys" from her Broadway turn in "Woman Of The Year." Barely moving his mouth or looking interested in the proceedings, he just looks like a man with women’s makeup on walking around the stage. Not a good start.
Enter Jimmy Emerson, trying desperately to get the crowd motivated and into the show. While his energy is some of the best in the evening, he seems a bit forced into being a hostess when he should really just be the comedic performer you love to see every once in awhile in the show. While "La Cage" tries to update itself with performers like Carlos Rodriguez doing Lady GaGa and Madonna, this Lady GaGa is awful, and his Madonna looks great but again, the performance is dull.
At one point, he leaves the stage for almost thirty seconds while the music changes and we’re convinced he’s coming back as a different incarnation of Madonna. But he just re-enters in the same drag and it’s a drag.
Following him is Kenneth Rex, who is an awful Katy Perry and Britney Spears, and doesn’t fare any better as drag icon Dolly Parton who he doesn’t resemble or imitate the mannerisms at all.
So enter the standard drags; Brent Allen is good as Bette Midler but there’s a Judy Garland segment that goes on far too long (as do most of the numbers) and they make the stage so dark that you could stick anyone up there lip syncing in the dark and I guess they’d look like Judy, too.
But there is a diamond in this show: Frankie Klein as both Marilyn Monroe and Liza Minnelli delivers what this whole show should be -- little tongue-in-cheek send up of icons with great energy, eye for detail, and a glimpse of why drag became the phenomenal piece of entertainment audiences have been loving for years.
I would highly recommend that "La Cage" re-tool again using Frankie Klein as the standard to which all the other performers and drag should be judged. He is the exception -- he is the vintage car on an otherwise used car lot.
As it’s done for years, "La Cage" closes the show with the Charles Aznavour classic, "What Makes A Man A Man," which is performed by the opening number performer (with about as much enthusiasm). One should note that when he starts the number, he’s a dead ringer for Frank Marino’s drag persona, which seems too close to be coincidence and frankly, an insult to Frank who is still at the top of his game while this performer is not.
So while there’s plenty of room to have two great drag shows in this town there’s only one at the moment -- and "La Cage" isn’t it.
"La Cage" performs for an extended run Wednesdays through Mondays at 7:30 p.m. at the Riviera, 2901 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. For info or tickets, call 800-634-3420 or visit www.rivierahotel.com/las-vegas-entertainment/la-cage-starring-jimmy-emerson/